A heroic performance from sophomore guard Elena Tsineke wasn’t enough to extend the USF women’s basketball season. The Bulls’ title hopes came to an end as they lost to Miami 78-66 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Columbia, South Carolina.
Tsineke was arguably the best player on the floor, finishing with a game-high 21 points. She had 17 points in the first half alone but couldn’t keep pace with a hot Miami offense.
“I thought [Tsineke] played with a great sense of urgency,” coach Jose Fernandez said postgame. “She attacked, she came to play.”
A rough start for the Bulls (24-9) never got much better as the Hurricanes (21-12) jumped out to a 24-11 first-quarter lead and took an 11-point advantage into halftime. Miami’s offense was too much for USF as they went up by as many as 17 points over the first two quarters.
“We just struggled really defending today and Miami made shots,” Fernandez said. “They finished, and they shot a really, really big number. I think at one point they were almost up to 70% from the floor at the half.
“Three quarters I thought they were even, but those last five minutes of that first quarter hurt and we just never had a chance to get it down.”
The Hurricanes shot 53% from the floor and 36% from three-point range. Ten different Miami players managed to score in the game as their bench players combined for 29 points.
They were led by senior guard Karla Erjavec who finished with 14 points. She was joined by four other players in double-digit scoring.
“I am surprised as anyone that we got to 78 and that we had three quarters that we had 20 points in three quarters because [USF] is very difficult to score against,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “It was the other players. Our bench put up 29 points off the bench, there’s the game.”
Whereas the Hurricanes were able to depend on their depth, the Bulls leaned heavily on a six-player rotation, with senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu the lone bench player to get a substantial amount of playing time.
Especially with the injury to sophomore guard Maria Alvarez, Fernandez was even more limited with how deep he could go into his reserves.
“It’s very difficult,” Fernandez said of playing a team as deep as Miami. “Also, it hurts, we’re missing one of our best perimeter players in Maria. So we probably would’ve played Dulcy, Maria, so seven [players].”
Even as USF made multiple efforts to chip away at the deficit, getting within eight points of the lead in the second half, the Hurricanes had a response to every run the Bulls made and managed to keep them at bay.
Leading the charge in the second half was junior guard Elisa Pinzan who scored 14 of her 19 points over the final 20 minutes.
“Credit to them again, they just shot the ball better,” Tsineke said. “It was frustrating because we had to come up with quick solutions. Every time we would have a good defense, they would have a good offense and every time we had a good offense, they had a good defense.
“It’s just how it is, it’s basketball.”
Despite falling short of the high expectations many placed on his team before the season, Fernandez is proud of what the Bulls overcame during the year and feels confident in their ability to bounce back.
“From the outside looking in, people say ‘Well it’s a disappointing season [since] they returned everybody, they had to win,’” Fernandez said. “[We] had a win over Stanford, a win over Oregon, played a really good schedule, didn’t win the conference, didn’t repeat as conference champions. People don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes and what some of these kids have been through emotionally, physically, mentally.
“It’s definitely not where we wanted to finish, but you got to regroup. We’ll get some time off, have end of the year meetings, figure out who’s coming back, who’s not. And we’ll be back here next year.”